My Perspicuous Preaching
Rev. Steve Schlissel - November 26, 2013
There’s no profit if you preach the finest message—carefully crafted, Calvinistically alliterated, with each of the three points supported by three separate Biblical texts and propelled by a dazzlingly clear illustration—if you, or something you do, distracts the listener. Your sermon may be a weapon with a wallop, but weapons need appropriate delivery systems—if there’s going to be any walloping done.
It is for this reason that I’ve instructed my students to prepare for, and present themselves in, the pulpit so that nothing in their ken could reasonably be expected to become a matter of distraction. For example, dress up, but do not sport the fanciest or flashiest apparel. Neither are they to don garments whose threads are so wan and frail that listeners are tempted to mentally conjure rescuing the cloth and rushing it to the ER of the nearest tailor. Or they might begin to consider the precise degree of the wife’s mortification. Yes, something as trivial as untreated stains on a visible garment, say a tie, have resulted in more eyes on the “poor pastor’s wife”—with portions of pity and condemnation in the ocular mix admitting of wide variation—more eyes on her than attentively trained on the messenger and his message.
As I begin to move toward a 35th anniversary in Christian ministry, I’m happy to say that the Lord has helped me keep attention on the Word with devices both economical and ontological. How do I know? Well, in the interest of brevity let me tell you one method I’ve confidently relied on for the attainment of such knowledge, a method considered very reliable: People have told me that such is the case and told me New York-plainly.
Take the case of one Theresa Juliano (later, Weberg), for instance. Still in the first decade or so of ministry, I was eager to have several regional Reformed ministers get access to the pulpit of this mission church. It was important for our many new converts to be assured that the faith and doctrine they were being taught here were widely held—normal! —and not merely the private opinions of some sincere but errant researcher.
Theresa was one such newbie who brought great texture to the patchwork of people and ethnicities assembling in our church to serve Jesus. A Brooklyn Italian from the Mona Lisa Vito school of elocution, Theresa could talk three miles a minute when she got going, and every word was in the finest Brooklynese.
One Lord’s Day the pulpit was occupied by a local colleague who, like moi, had been ordained to the pastorate at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and who also had grown to become Reformed through the study of Holy Scripture. Theresa was anxious to give her review of his pulpit performance, so her future hubbie, Paul Weberg, and I stood before her and gave ear.
“Pastor Steve, I don’t know if I should say this, or how I should, but I’m not sure I profit much when Pastor Mike is in the pulpit.”
“Why, Theresa? I thought he gave a fine and helpful message.”
“He might have, but Pastor Mike is so handsome (here was inserted a sound for which I do not know the spelling), I couldn’t pay attention to anything he said. (At this, her eyes rolled up, chasing her appended lashes.)
“I have to admit, “we heard Theresa say in her best “confessing” voice. “I’m not really sure if I tried. He is soooo (in rhyme with oh!) good looking! Ooooh! (in rhyme with lieu). I don’t know what he said; I only know how I felt when he was saying it. Please, Pastor Steve, don’t hate me! I’m not always so scattered. I mean, I can follow you and your sermons with no problem at all. Believe me.”
I did, and I do. So, there you have it: unsolicited testimony affirming, confirming that I ontologically practice what I preach. When you see me in the pulpit, you’re not looking at a living distraction! Of that you may rest assured, just as I do in my well-chosen boasts.
I hope my students are paying attention.